The Pandemic Pause on Cancer Screenings 18 Months Later

Last year, we stopped screening for cancer.

In the spring of 2020, hospitals and healthcare providers across the country shifted their attention from the mundane, routine, but still critically important day-to-day elements of modern healthcare. As the pandemic went from a bubble to a boil, eventually bringing the world to a stop, care changed.

The Pandemic Pause on Cancer Screening

Few people could have possibly predicted just how long vital medical services like cancer screenings would be interrupted, but they could calculate the impact such delays could have on cancer rates and treatment outcomes. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ve noticed it’s a topic we’ve touched on more than a half dozen times in the past year and a half. In short:

  • Tens of thousands of cancer screenings were canceled or postponed
  • Some patients still have rescheduled their screening
  • The result could mean hundreds of thousands of late cancer diagnoses, causing a long-term increase in the death rate of many types of cancer

Today, we know that the effects of the pandemic on cancer screening rates didn’t have as long-lasting an impact as were initially feared. One big reason was how quickly the healthcare industry brought the rate of screenings back up to normal. Initially, some experts predicted that routine 75% of mammogram and colon cancer screenings would be delayed by six months or more.

According to one study, however, that didn’t happen. Only April of 2020 saw a marked dip in screening numbers, which returned to near-normal levels in June of that month.

Long-Term Effects of Cancer Screening Delays

That two or three-month period, however, appears to have had a negative impact on new cancer patients. Nearly two-thirds of oncologists report finding more advanced cases of metastasized tumors in patients in a study released in March 2021, one year after many of these delays began. Doctors in Italy have also reported At the University of Cinncinati, doctors have noted an alarming increase in lung nodules that were likely cancerous this year, up to 29 compared to 8% in 2020. Some groups that don’t see screenings as a helpful tool say it isn’t likely that such a short gap in screenings could have such an impact on cancer rates so soon.

Cancer Prevention in 2022

The brief pause in screenings might be alarming to the tens of thousands of patients whose screening was delayed. It is important to remember that there are millions of Americans who never had a screening to begin with, nor do they have access to normal, preventative, routine healthcare treatment. In the first half of 2021, 10% of American adults were uninsured. Even 30 to 40% of adults with insurance say they avoided or delayed accessing healthcare. According to the same survey, Americans lost employer-sponsored healthcare and more are relying on access to care through Medicaid or CHIP coverage, as well as a move toward plans available through the Affordable Care Act.

Cancer prevention starts with equitable access to care and all of the information and resources that go hand-in-hand with medical services from birth. In addition, we need to prioritize healthy eating in schools and at home through better education and smarter school lunch programs that ditch french fries for carrot sticks and baked sweet potatoes for pizza slices.

Learn more about cancer prevention and cancer prevention resources at LessCancer.org.

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Cody Sovis

Cody Sovis

Low-level marketing guy with a cycling habit. Advocate for cancer prevention, active lifestyles, equality, and breakfast cookies.